For the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, nothing is going erase the memory of that terrible loss against the Michigan Wolverines three weeks ago. The team folded and played awful, and looked more like a team that wouldn’t make a bowl instead of the top 10 team that they were at the time. It was telling that the bigger story coming out of Ann Arbor wasn’t “Jim Harbaugh’s big win” but that Notre Dame absolutely failed to show up to play a football game.
For 95% of the next game against the Virginia Tech Hokies, the Irish played tight and more like they were playing to NOT lose instead of for the win. The Irish were 18 point favorites in that game, and it wasn’t until that final drive that Ian Book and his teammates on the offensive side of the ball got loose and turned up their level of play. Book’s passes to Chase Claypool, and then his feet to get yards — and ultimately the game winning touchdown — made all the difference.
With the “haters silenced” a little bit, the Irish then went down to Tobacco road to take on the Duke Blue Devils and continued that offensive performance hand in hand with a defense that played dominant. It was what was supposed to happen, but not many thought it would actually go down that way. Despite two interceptions from Book, he started throwing more downfield and created more running lanes for himself along the way.
As the Midshipmen rattled off win after win with explosive performances over the season, this game became more and more important. Navy was ranked #21 in the AP Poll and #23 by the college football playoff committee — and Irish fans squirmed all week waiting for this game.
As it turned out, Notre Dame is continuing to build on that last minute touchdown against Virginia Tech with this 52-20 win at home today. The Irish held that “scary” Navy offense to 281 yards rushing (well below the Navy average) and 79 yards passing. A lot of those yards came in the late stages of the third quarter and the 4th quarter as Notre Dame turned to its bench. The starting Irish defense only gave up a field goal and recovered 3 fumbles to set the offense up.
While Chase Claypool’s four touchdowns are certainly the biggest stat of the day, it was one throw from Ian Book to Braden Lenzy for a 70 yard touchdown that shows just how far Book and the offense has come. Notre Dame needed to push the ball more down the field through the air, and that play is exactly what has been missing.
There are still plenty of question marks with this team as far as the running game goes, but with both Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey out for the year, it probably will be a little bit of a struggle on the ground. The way they are going out there and attacking the defense, however, makes up for that in a lot of ways.
Even if the Irish win their final two games of the year, they still might not get enough help to launch them into the Cotton Bowl, but they are looking more and more worthy of such a bid — more so than just a few weeks ago.
A corner has been turned, and Brian Kelly talked about the Virginia Tech game being the origin of that shift in his post game presser after Navy. It’s a rallying cry and something they can and will use as motivation to finish the season strong with a 10-2 record and on their way to whatever bowl game they end up playing.